Community College of Aurora launches campaign to construct new STEM building

A current classroom at CCA for the power mechanics program. Photo provided by CCA

AURORA | A capital campaign is underway at the Community College of Aurora to construct a new STEM building on campus, the college’s first new building in 23 years.

The 54,000 square foot Center for STEM, Power Mechanics and Applied Technologies is slated to open in 2023 on the college’s CentreTech campus. The building will house CCA’s diesel power mechanics program, the BuildStrong Academy and other STEM programs.

CCA is the only public college in the state that offers an associate’s degree in diesel mechanics. The program is currently housed in a building on the Lowry campus that was constructed in the 1940s and “has seen better days,” vice president of academic success Bobby Pace told The Sentinel.

The new building will allow the program to expand as it prepares to integrate more electric vehicle technology into its curriculum, Pace said.

The BuildStrong Academy is a nonprofit that partners with CCA to boost the number of people in Colorado’s construction industry, a sector that has been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re very thrilled that the timing of this building really will help address this workforce need,” said John Wolfkill, executive director of the CCA Foundation. “We think it’s just the most perfect time for this new opportunity at CCA.”

The new building will give CCA the opportunity to increase the number of people in its STEM programs, Pace said. It hopes to at least double the number of students enrolled in the diesel power program and BuildStrong’s construction programs.

The building will also be used to grow CCA’s other engineering and science programs, particularly in solar and environmental sustainability. With the college’s STEM programs all housed under one roof, Pace said there will be greater opportunities for collaboration and partnerships between academic and hands-on work.

Much of the growth will be in certificates or other programs that students will be able to complete quickly and that will qualify them for better-paying jobs then they had before, he said.

“For adult learners, they don’t necessarily want to spend two to four years in school. They want to be upscaled and enter directly back into the workplace,” Pace said.

The one-year diesel program costs about $11,500 for in-state students, according to CCA’s website. According to career website Indeed, the average diesel mechanic in the U.S. makes a base salary of $25.01 per hour.

Wolfkill noted that only 31% of Aurora residents have bachelor’s degrees.

The increase in programs “will support more local residents to earn those college credentials that are going to prepare them for economic mobility,” he said.

In total, the building is expected to cost $14 million. Last year the college received $6.2 million from the state for the project, and has committed $1.5 million in its own reserve funds to the project. CCA received $1 million in private donations, and is in process of raising the remaining $5.3 million.

Construction is slated to begin in May, with a move-in date of summer 2023.